A guided tour of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Old-fashioned hospitality in the communist D
Monday 18 May 2015
Sometimes people ask me how (and when) I first got into urban exploration. There’s a range of different stock answers that I variably give to that question – a handful of half-remembered anecdotes from my childhood – but the honest truth is: I really don’t know. I guess it’s just a part of me.
It’s easy, however, to pinpoint the date when I began chronicling my exploits.
I was at school back then, in 1997, and the homework assignment from our English class was to write a short essay around the theme, ‘A Place of My Own.’ By this stage I was already sneaking into abandoned and derelict buildings on a regular basis; sometimes with friends, other times alone. My inspiration for the essay was not hard to find.
I wrote about a factory; an old, disused creamery on the edge of town, which I had already explored on a number of occasions. I’ve been back again since, and the location has even featured on this blog – in one of my earlier posts, titled ‘The Old Milk Factory‘.
As an amusing aside, my grade for the homework was a Fail. The teacher – an author, researcher, archivist and local historian, ironically, the sort of person I’d end up growing into – refused to believe that I was the true author of the essay.
The factory was built at the bottom of a steep hill on the edge of town, next to the river, and within easy cycling distance of my house.
When one reaches the bottom of the hill, the small road turns off to the right, just before the bridge over the river. The road continues in a straight line for several hundred metres, while on either side are the towering warehouses and machinery rooms. A hundred or so years ago, I’m sure it would have been a proud sight – the red brick buildings humming with the sound of the Industrial Revolution. Now however, the mighty organism is reduced to a few crumbling sheds with boarded up windows and broken, but none the less locked, doors. Brambles grow over its steel gantries, while the storm gutters overflow with bird’s nests and filth. Walking down the central road, and under the walkways passing overhead, one cannot help but feel slight in comparison… never quite shift the feeling of centuries-old eyes, boring into the back of the skull.
It was a milk bottling factory most recently, I think. Inside, the conveyor belts still exist, as do the large unexplainable mechanisms. I don’t know how it was used before that, but I heard rumours that it was involved in the weaving trade.
It has been closed down and shut up for at least twenty years now, but I can still feel all its former majesty.
Once one has found a way into the main building (through broken window, crumbling hole in wall, skylight or missing door), adrenaline rushing through the body at the thought of being classed a ‘trespasser’, the factory’s majesty drops a little; those towering heights and noble facades are now replaced by dusty floors and a stale, musty stench. The floors inside the building are all coated with a thick carpet of grey dust, with small paths cleared by foxes. A clump of feathers lies in one corner, the dispersed fluff and faint smell of decayed flesh the only clues to the crime. There are many random-seeming piles of cardboard boxes, their contents long since transported elsewhere. As one treads carefully through the deceased workplace, cobwebs are highlighted by the dim and shallow light cast in by grey-painted square windows.
Staircases and locked doors lead to other parts of the building, untrodden in decades. Engine rooms and offices lead off on all sides, away from this central packing floor.
On one wall are roughly scrawled the words: ‘Box city’. A joke at some point, by one of the factory’s employees – but where are they now? Are they dead? Alive? What happens now to all those lives once brought together and united by a brick structure, now dead itself?
On my last expedition into the unknown, the once barren moonscape of the packing room floor had in its centre a neat stack of crisp cardboard boxes. Ugly trails of footprints across the spoilt dust surface lead straight to the main doors, now fitted with a new lock.
When I left, an alarm was sounding in a distant office. A modern security system had been fitted. An engine sounded somewhere behind me, and turning, I saw a range rover coming to investigate the intrusion. I ran.
In that week’s newspaper I saw it confirmed – the factory had been bought up, with intention to be put back into use. Another local firm had bought it as a place to store their wares, before beginning the process of building moulds and furnaces on-site.
While this development could only be seen as a good thing for the community as a whole, I couldn’t help feeling sad. Rather than restoring the factory to life, in my eyes the crumbling fortress was being put down once and for all.
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